Local road conditions: 'The news is, things are getting worse'

The latest report on Kern County's roads show conditions are getting worse, and local experts say that's bad in a number of ways. The assessment on road maintenance was the topic of a special workshop at the Kern Council of Governments meeting Thursday evening.

"The report comes out about every two years," Kern COG Planning Director Rob Ball told Eyewitness News. "The latest report has come out, and the news is, things are getting worse."

Ball said Kern shows up with a "pavement condition index" of 63. That's worse than the local score in previous years, and it's worse than the current state average.

It's a problem in a number of ways.

"There is a direct correlation between a poorly-maintained road and the increase in the incidents of traffic accidents and injuries along that road," Ball said.

And, bad roads also hurt economic health.

Planners say, for example, Kern has a number of big warehouses, and those businesses depend on transportation. Ball said a study out of Oregon shows a reduction in economic activity linked to poor road conditions.

"If you tie that to roads, we're looking at the potential of a loss of up to 20,000 jobs in Kern," Ball said.

But, local governments currently don't have the funds to keep up road maintenance, experts say. Ball said they're making a "heroic effort," but their budgets are strapped.

And, state funds from gasoline taxes aren't keeping up with the needs. Ball said with more fuel-efficient cars on the road, drivers are buying less gas, and paying less gas tax.

"The State of California is working on legislation right now to try and fix the transportation funding shortfall," Ball said. He said those efforts include ideas about raising the gas tax or putting a special fee on tires.

There are also ideas about increasing the tax on diesel fuel. "They say that on highways, trucks account for about 80 percent of the wear and tear on our roads," Ball said.

On Thursday, he said the presentation on road conditions would also include information on using new technology to help improve highways.

"They're allowing us to pave more roads with less money," Ball said. "Some communities are starting to use something called 'thin lay,' which is a technology that allows you to extend the life of a surface with something a little more high tech than asphalt."

One more thing: the experts say delays in road repairs end up costing a lot more.

"The cost to maintain these roads is a tenth of what it costs if you had to completely rebuild the roads from scratch," Ball said.

He also said wet weather can add to road problems, and we got a lot of that this winter.

So, it's important to tackle the problem now.

"It is very important that we address this road issue, and we need to come up with every potential solution to address it," Ball said.

He said the Kern COG workshop is a start, and hopes that will raise awareness of how important road maintenance is. He also said they plan to have a series of public workshops this spring, and they want to get more input and ideas on transportation funding.

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